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Study says recreational pot measure could have benefited San Juan County

Analysis: Dispensaries would add more than 150 jobs locally

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee opposed the measure by a 6-4 vote earlier this week, likely ending its chances of passage this session.
  • A state agency issued an analysis in January that projected the measure's impact across the state on a county-by-county basis.
  • Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says the adoption of a recreational marijuana measure in New Mexico is inevitable.

FARMINGTON — A legislative proposal to legalize recreational marijuana in New Mexico appeared to go down in flames Feb. 12, but it was a measure that could have provided a significant boost to employment in San Juan County, according to a fiscal impact analysis released earlier this year by a state agency.

The analysis provides a breakdown of how many recreational marijuana dispensaries would be expected to open in each county under the terms set forth in Senate Bill 115, the Cannabis Regulation Act.

More:Education, recreational pot, pensions look like hot issues in upcoming legislative session

The bill cleared the Senate Public Affairs Committee on Jan. 28 by a 4-3 vote, but The Associated Press reported Feb. 13 that the measure stands little chance of being revived this session after it failed a day earlier in the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 6-4 vote.

The study by the New Mexico Economic Development Department was released earlier this year and examines the employment impact of the proposal on a county-by-county basis.

It offers a rosy forecast for San Juan County, predicting more jobs would be created here than almost any other county in the state.

This April 6, 2018, file photo shows the leaves of a marijuana plant inside Ultra Health's cultivation greenhouse in Bernalillo, N.M. A plan to legalize recreational marijuana sales stalled this week in a legislative committee.

Study estimates 38 new dispensaries would open

The analysis begins by developing an estimated number of cannabis users based on each county's adult population and an anticipated 25 percent usage rate.

Under that formula, San Juan County would have nearly 22,000 users, with slightly more than 1,600 of those classified as users of medical marijuana, which is already legal in New Mexico. That would leave the county with nearly 20,400 new users, according to the agency's estimate.

The county already has three medical marijuana dispensaries to support users here, and the document estimates that 38 new dispensaries — each employing an average of four people — would open to support consumer demand. That translates to 152 new jobs to support the industry in San Juan County, according to the agency's estimate.

In this March 6, 2019 file photo, Korbin Osborn, left, works as a cannabis adviser at a medical marijuana dispensary in Santa Fe. Legalization for the first time enjoys the full throttled support of second-year Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, but the latest legislation stalled this week in a legislative committee.

That figure ranks second in the state, trailing only the 619 new jobs that would be expected to be created in Bernalillo County, by far the state's most populous county.

Under those estimates, the number of jobs created in San Juan County would exceed the number created in some of New Mexico's more heavily populated counties, including Doña Ana County (107 jobs), Santa Fe County (89 jobs) and Sandoval County (71 jobs).

The EDD estimates the new industry would create 1,531 new jobs across New Mexico with 383 new dispensaries opening.

Others are reading:Legislative session roundup: Controversial bills mark the start of the second week

Arvin Trujillo, CEO of Four Corners Economic Development, said he had not seen the analysis and was not aware of its projections for employment in San Juan County, where government officials are pursuing a variety of economic diversification efforts ranging from outdoor recreation to filmmaking.

"I really don't have a position on that," he said, adding that he would need to examine the study and the possible ramifications of having a sizable commercial recreational marijuana presence here.

Arvin Trujillo

A spokeswoman for the City of Farmington said the city's economic development director, Warren Unsicker, was unavailable to talk about the analysis and referred questions on the subject to Four Corners Economic Development.

The legalization of recreational pot is an idea that has been championed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has touted its potential positive impact on the state's economy.

Most Republican lawmakers have expressed opposition to the idea, while Democrats appeared split on it — a situation that was borne out earlier this week, when Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat, blasted the bill before voting against it. Another Democrat, Sen. Richard Martinez of Española, also voted against the measure, joining four Republicans. The other four Democrats on the committee supported it.

Governor: Legalization is 'inevitable'

A disappointed Grisham issued a statement on the committee's vote afterward, indicating the issue isn't dead as far as she is concerned.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

"Legalized recreational cannabis in New Mexico is inevitable," she said. "The people of New Mexico have said they want it. A diversified state economy demands it. Poll after poll has demonstrated that New Mexicans want a 21st century economy and want cannabis to be part of it: New Mexicans want more chances to stay here and build a career here; we want justice for those convicted of low-level, harmless cannabis-related offenses; we want an industry with firm and clear regulations that will keep our roads and places of business and children safe."

Keep reading:Aztec school board approves medical cannabis policy for students

Grisham said she was not deterred by the latest legislative setback. Another measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana in New Mexico was defeated in the state Senate last year.

"The door remains open," she said in the statement. "We will keep working to get it done. And ultimately we will deliver thousands of careers for New Mexicans in a new and clean and exciting industry, a key new component of a diversifying economy."

In this June 11, 2019 file photo Medical marijuana flowers await customers at the Minerva cannabis dispensary in Santa Fe.

Members of the Republican-dominated San Juan County legislative delegation had expressed worries about the proposal before the start of the session, citing such concerns as increased medical costs for those who over consume, increased homelessness and the development of a black market.

The only Democratic member of the county's delegation, Rep. Anthony Allison of Fruitland, was one of the few members of his party to vote against the similar bill last year and has said he remains personally opposed to the adoption of a recreational marijuana measure this year. He said he is seeking feedback from his constituents on the issue, but said he is unlikely to change his mind unless he becomes convinced that the regulations surrounding the sale and use of recreational pot are tightly established.

The Cannabis Regulation Act would legalize recreational marijuana for adult use, taxing it at an average of 20 percent. Licensed recreational dispensaries could begin operating on Jan. 1, 2022, but existing licensed medical dispensaries could begin selling to non-medical consumers on Jan. 1, 2021.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or emailed at measterling@daily-times.com.

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